I have always been a lover of books. As the first child of two bookworms, there’s really no surprise there. One of my earliest childhood memories is of me lying on my back, between both of my parents; each of us holding a book. I also remember often pestering my mum and aunt for Enid Blyton books as my birthday gift. Before the end of primary school, I had become the resident bookworm in our home. And by the time I got my nerdy prescription glasses, the stereotypical image was complete.
The more I think about it, the more I realise how books helped to shape my childhood. Back then, I would spend hours reading the newspapers we used to line our kitchen shelves. My mum had to teach me how to set the pages I found interesting aside for later. She did this particularly so that my reading would not slow me down when I needed to do my chores.
A Book Can Be A Place Of Escape
By the time I was a preteen, books had become my refuge. I devoured them, finishing each Harry Potter book upon release in a single night, and gobbling up smaller books in less than two hours. Books were my way of escape. I would settle into a page and the world would feel like it stopped. Who needed food or sleep when I could read so many books? The school library became my home too, with rows and rows of bookshelves taking me from Jagua Nana’s life to Biology textbooks I had no business reading in JSS 2.
I don’t consciously remember a tenth of all I read in those years, but they come to me from my subconscious at odd, unbidden moments. Like a character called ‘Gladys by Night’ from one of my favourite childhood books, or the Native American character, ‘Little Tree’, from one of my mother’s favourite books.
The day my father handed me a book called ‘Second Class Citizen’ by Buchi Emecheta, something in me changed. I did not know what or how at the time, but there was something intriguing about a writer who came from my hometown and looked like my aunts. When she wrote about the river Oboshi, I recalled the memorable trip to Ibusa where my father took me on a stroll through the villages and told me about the legend of the goddess.
Closer home was the fact that the protagonist, Adah Ofili, had my surname. In addition to that, I was traditionally referred to as an ‘Ada’ because I was the first daughter of my parents. Even more closely, perhaps even uncomfortably, was the fact that there were a few parallels between the story and some parts of my life. For the first time, I learned that art imitated life, and that sometimes, you could run away from reality and still stumble into yourself in the pages of a book.
Reading And Writing – Two Sides Of A Coin
I did not read another book from Buchi Emecheta until I became an adult. But I continued to read as a child. In my teenage years, I switched to lighter materials. I had my fill of Mills and Boon, Harlequin, Silhouette, Fern Michaels and John Grisham books. Biographies made their way in occasionally, and spiritual reading became a thing for me. Achebe and Soyinka featured occasionally between the demands of school curriculums and a growing appreciation for writers who looked and spoke like me.
The more I read, the more stories I connected with. I am glad to have discovered books by NoViolet Bulawayo, Ferdinand Oyono, Alice Walker, and of course, Chimamanda Adichie.
I am not sure how or when it happened, but somehow I don’t read half as much as I used to. This is something I am working to remedy, especially since I am a full time writer now. After all, reading and writing are more or less two sides of the same coin.
So to all the book lovers around the world—writers and readers alike:
Happy World Book Day!